Thursday, May 25, 2023

Lexicon: Themes and Modular Jams

Here is a key to some of the terminology we will be using in our exploration of Dark Star. There are several themes that reappear in various versions, including both modular jams and musical themes that reappear in several Dark Stars.


Some of these themes were named by Light Into Ashes of the Grateful Dead Guide; these will be marked "LIA." Others were named by ourselves, or are of unknown origin.

Introduction Theme
This appears at the beginning of most Dark Stars, particularly when they do not emerge from another song or ongoing jam.


Main Theme
This appears near the beginning of Dark Star in many early versions, but eventually it comes to introduce the verse.

1971-10-31 4:22

186. 1989-10-16

140163 Meadowlands 17:07 (Dark Star I. 11:02; Dark Star II. 5:25)

First verse at 5:37.
Main theme at II. 2:08.
Second verse at II. 3:49.
I. goes into Playing in the Band, II. goes into Attics of My Life.

Here we finally get to a Dark Star for which I was in attendance. After the crazy setlists in Hampton, we weren’t really expecting Dark Star to make another appearance so soon. Perhaps if the more savvy among us had heard the tape from Hampton we’d have thought differently, as the band had really committed to Dark Star there in a way they hadn’t done since before the hiatus. In any case, when they opened the second set with it in New Jersey, the audience was ecstatic.

This time, they structured the whole second set around Dark Star. Weaving into the Playing in the Band>Uncle John’s Band>Playing Jam segment way this does makes the second set feel like one big jam. I will confine my remarks to the Dark Star segments, but this set should really be heard as a whole.

Garcia starts out by talking around the theme before wending his way into a beautifully tortuous lead line. It’s not long before the Midi effects creep in; this time they form an aura around Jerry’s clean sound, somehow. Lesh is fairly prominent here, although they keep it pretty close to home, staying in a groove. At around 2:30 a horn tone comes out on Garcia’s guitar. He’s pretty mobile with the effects, and the clean sound keeps poking through.

They have a really lush sound this time. Mydland continues to work his way further into the spirit of Dark Star. Tune in around the four minute mark, and all four front line players are weaving lines around each other to stunning effect. Weir drops back into chordal stuff pretty soon, though. Jerry keeps alluding to the Dark Star melody; they’re not going out, but they’re exploring a bit more before the verse this time, until it finally pops in without warning at 5:37.

One thing that stands out on this one is how beautiful Garcia’s playing is, albeit in a more digital way than a 70s head would be used to. They plough right back into the groove after the verse. They get to around the 8 and a half minute mark before it sounds like it might be breaking up a little—there’s a turning point here. Garcia and Mydland lock in together at 9:15 and Weir, who seems to have a touch of MIDI going now, provides some hijinks with a sort of hybrid horn section/car horn bit. It slowly gets weirder, and by 10:30 finally seems to be heading out.

Jerry launches some flurries and is echoed by Brent. Lesh is finally getting strange, and it all starts to go sideways. By 11:30, though, it all subsides and Garcia calls for Playing in the Band. There’s more good jamming to come, but for now this segment comes to an end right when it might have been heading out somewhere interesting.

The three songs that remain before drums get into some pretty crazy MIDI-fied jams that in a way continue the Dark Star initiative, so it may not be apt to judge this one in isolation. Nevertheless, I’ll skip to the back half after the Space segment. I Need A Miracle trickles back into Dark Star, and now Phil Lesh is louder and more assertive than heretofore. They’re bringing it all back around, though, with the outer reaches having been visited during the Playing jam and Space, and they consequently maintain the groove here, although they allow themselves some indulgences in the form of MIDI effects.

They take it into the main theme after a couple minutes, but instead of going right for the verse they luxuriate in the Dark Starness of it all for a while, finally getting to the verse at 3:49. They’re just wrapping it up at this point; anyway, if you skip all but the Dark Star tracks, you’ll have missed a lot. After the verse, they wind it right down and take it into an emotional reading of Attics of My Life (although it would be kind of hard to imagine an unemotional rendition!).

This was a great set and a great experience. Taken in isolation, however, this Dark Star is nowhere near as exciting as the one from Hampton. On the other hand, they still seem to be into it, and fortunately there are several more excellent renditions to come.

What was said:

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

185. 1989-10-09

147611 Hampton 19:19

Main theme at :57.
First verse at 1:05.
Main theme at 9:54.
Second verse at 10:41.
Goes into Drums.

If the 1984 Dark Star encore at the Greek was a wonderful surprise, this one was greeted with shock and almost disbelief. At this point, few expected Dark Star to appear on a set list again, much less (as it would turn out) see a revival as a semi-regular feature of Grateful Dead shows. The previous night the band, booked as “Formerly The Warlocks,” had brought back Help On the Way>Slipknot, and many of the fans in attendance on the 9th doubtless thought they’d already seen—or missed—the main action of this short run. Little did they know what lay in store—not only Dark Star, but also Death Don’t Have No Mercy (presented with a surprisingly effective updated arrangement) and Attics of My Life for an encore. Deadheads staggered away from Hampton in a blissful stupor, and the word spread.

The crowd goes crazy at the sound of the familiar intro notes. There’s a rather short introduction, and Garcia (playing the Wolf again) does something new here, playing a kind of complementary lick on the bass strings rather than asserting the theme. The verse arrives after a mere minute, and by 2:20 they’re into the meat of the song. Garcia’s line is just as beautiful as ever here, and his sound is a bit more digital at this point, although he has a light touch with whatever effects he’s using until about 3:50, when he starts to swim in a reverb-y delay thing. Here the drummers are still banging away, but Weir seems game to make it strange, and Mydland seems to have gained some aptitude for weird Grateful Dead music in the interim since 1984. Lesh is active, but once again he has more of a supporting role than he was wont to adopt in the old days.

At about 4:45 Jerry starts sliding into a more effect-heavy sound, though not all at once. Then at 5:10 the MIDI is fully unleashed, as Garcia’s guitar has become a marimba crossed with a flute. It’s batty, but pretty great. At 5:44 he becomes a bassoon—it’s hard to keep up with all of this! The band by now has shifted into a darker space, and the drummers have broken out of the relentless groove that, from our perspective, had lasted for 10 years now. Jerry fires out crazy woodwind lines, Weir’s playing follows a strange logic that seems to complement him, and Brent has cautiously moved out into terra incognita with them. Lesh seems to have sunk down into a low rumbly accompaniment that underpins the proceedings without suggesting anything entirely new.

At 7:50 Garcia’s guitar is starting to sound like a guitar again. He starts a little frenetic jam, with Weir’s line echoing him with a slight lag, which is enough to get the headphone listener’s synapses sizzling. At 8:20 they come to a peak and back off immediately. Now there’s a meandering interlude, a moment of decision—will they return to the theme, or try something else? It seems to be the latter—they spin out into a section that is reminiscent of their more coherent space jams of the era. Weir has also fired up the MIDI at this point, and Brent seems entirely comfortable staying in the outer reaches. But at 9:44 Garcia signals the theme, and that’s where they go, and then we get the second verse.

They follow the verse with a deeper venture into space. Garcia is playing some rumbly and ominous lines, while Weir weirds out on distorted guitar. Then they switch roles, at least texturally, as Jerry plays some keening distorted lead while Weir kicks on some oddball MIDI effect. Mydland is likewise rather mercurial with his sounds here, with piano-like flurries switching to a Hawkwindesque gale and back again. At 14:40 the band kicks up a windstorm, and there is an entirely new and different kind of musical peak than any we’ve heard in Dark Star to date.

The music is rather hard to describe at this point, as it often is when they go into a space jam. It’s almost cacophonous at times, and entirely exciting. The much-maligned MIDI effects contribute to a totally psychedelic tour de force tonight; maybe this is how they’d have sounded in 1973 if they had the same effects then, as the space jams from that year are the closest prior analogue to what’s happening here. It starts to disperse at around 18:00; they no longer sound like they’re building something, so much as getting some parting shots in. Pretty soon they cede the field to the drummers.

This is a bit short compared to many of the classic versions of yore. It’s a very powerful stretch of music, however. They seem much more committed to Dark Star here than they have since 1974, and the new technology adds an element that I found to be bracing but welcome. The one disappointment is that Lesh’s role still seems to be a bit diminished, but overall this is both a historical landmark and a successful rendition.

What was said:

Thursday, May 11, 2023

184. 1984-07-13

152162 Berkeley 15:55

First verse at 1:28.
Main theme at 9:51, 12:10, and 13:09.
Second verse at 13:22.
Standalone version (encore).

This was a nice surprise for the crowd at the Greek, I imagine. Garcia gets right to business this time, floating above the band with grace. They hit a nice groove here, and Lesh is a bit more active out of the gate than he’s been on the last few versions, although that’s a low bar. Surprisingly, Jerry hits the verse in under a minute and a half. This might not be a bad thing, given that the second verse is back and place, and thus this clears out a nice space for improvising in the interim.

They repeat the intro lick and swing back into the groove; 18 seconds later Garcia kicks on a distortion effect. Mydland is more of a force here than he was in 1981, although he doesn’t lead or do anything to disrupt the groove. On the other hand, the interaction between Garcia and Lesh is more prominent than it has been, with the bass taking a more melodic role. The band sounds very comfortable and fluid throughout here.

At around 6:55 Garcia seems to be working toward some kind of peak, but he pulls back. What we get is a lot of dynamic motion, which is a bit more like they used to do it in 1969, where the band would swell and drop several times in a matter of minutes. There are lots of allusions and partial quotes of the main theme throughout.

Jerry works his way into a repeating figure that really gets going from around 8:54. Everyone latches on and the music swells, and Garcia tops it off with a quasi-Bright Star section from 9:20. He drops down into the theme at 9:51, at which point it seems like the second verse is coming; instead, Jerry heads off into a kind of Sputnik sequence. This is a nice passage, if a bit brief, and soon Jerry’s hinting at the theme again, but he takes them to another minor peak at around 11:30.

From there Garcia winds his way up to a high A at 12:07, which is a sufficiently clear cue to Brent that they some together to play a bit of the theme in unison. There’s a woozy two-chord stretch after this that takes us to the next verse. Weir plays a little subtle slide stuff here that is tasteful and good, believe it or not. After the second verse, they let it fizzle out for about a minute, and the concert is over.

The two drums again make the music a lot more static, and the band stays in a groove, which seems to be a marked trend (if we can talk of trends when Dark Stars are so thin on the ground). There is nothing very surprising here, aside from the fact that they played Dark Star at all, and played it as an encore. Having said that, the music is quite wonderful in a low key way.

What was said:

Thursday, May 4, 2023

183. 1981-12-31

12784 Oakland 14:50

Main theme at :06, 3:01, 3:48, and 12:35.
First verse at 3:58.
Second verse at 13:03.
Goes into Bertha.

Now Brent Mydland is on the scene, and he tinkles along in a more or less pleasing way; Garcia is on the Tiger now. The intro gives way to a snappy and sort of funky assertion of the theme—it’s mostly comping until Garcia fires off a line at :34, but this doesn’t lead anywhere in particular. They seem kind of unsure how to get into it, and the band is much more rhythmically oriented now, so this almost sounds like a backing track for a while. At about 2:10 there’s a little uptick in energy, but this is almost immediately reversed.

They slip into an intriguing space that seems like it might lead somewhere. The theme reemerges, and then Garcia ventures forth a little more. He soon brings it back to the theme, and that’s it for the introductory section, as he quickly goes to the verse. The appreciation of the crowd can be heard on the SBD recording as the vocals begin. The band bobbles the chordal reverse in the second couplet this time; I don’t think all of them remembered it.

As they swing back into the jam, Jerry seems more determined to make something happened, and then Lesh starts playing more forcefully too, but Weir and Mydland go back to comping. Oddly, after a short time Jerry starts comping too. Nobody else steps out, so he brings the lead line back. He brings them to a peak as we cross the seven minute mark, with Weir pushing a bit now. The band is starting to sound particularly good now, but we haven’t heard many ideas yet.

8:00 sees a more laid back, spooky segment beginning. Mydland comes to the fore a bit more but his playing is fundamentally ornamental. As Garcia moves them into a minor key zone, Brent plays some tinkling flourishes, but if anyone moves things forward it seems like it’s not going to be him. Reaching the 10 minute mark, the vibe has started to disperse, and then they pull it together—Jerry relies on repetition here and elsewhere to get a little energy going. The ensemble has a more delicate balance by 11:00, almost like chamber music. Like everything else noteworthy here, this proves to be brief.

Garcia kicks on the distortion at 11:20, and soon the drummers kick back into a more laidback groove. Oddly, this evaporates after a few bars; there’s a promising moment where it all gets spacey, but Jerry brings the theme back and they go to the second verse. They pedal along for a little while after the verse and then Jerry strikes up Bertha.

The band sounds good here, as far as cohesion goes, although if anything there’s too much of that. Phil Lesh has ceased to be a source of ideas and a driving force; Weir is mostly playing accompaniment; Mydland adds little aside from decoration; even Garcia, surprisingly, seems almost like a spent force here. It’s not unpleasant music, but other than that it’s a whole lot of nothing.

What was said:\

Thursday, April 27, 2023

182. 1979-01-20

100025 Buffalo 9:23 (“Dark Star” 10:15 -:52)

Main theme at 4:20.
First verse at 4:50.
Goes into Not Fade Away.

The listener may want to start two tracks back with “Jam,” which is lovely, if a bit slight, or else back at the beginning of The Other One, which precedes Drums. After the short jam, Weir gives us the second verse of Other One, and to wrap it up they play a little wind-down jam followed by the intro lick to Dark Star, which comes at :52 into the track we have here.

The first thought I had about this is that these few late-70s Dark Stars, where the piece is somewhat conservative with a stiffer beat and a more coordinated attack, are really beautiful in their way. Playing Dark Star as a (relatively) more scripted piece of music takes some of the excitement out of it, but when it appears one can be struck by how downright pretty and haunting the music is. I remember how magical the first moments of Dark Star felt the times I saw them do it (in 1989-1991). Garcia doesn’t play lines quite like this on anything else, and it’s wonderful to hear them.

Lesh is more prominent in the mix here than he was at Nassau, for which we must be thankful. It has been remarked that he is mostly holding the bottom end down now, but I don’t think this is entirely accurate all the time; however, passages like 3:05—3:15 are almost shocking in comparison to the early 70s, as here we find Phil laying down a one-note bass line while Jerry flutters around. Weir and Godchaux, in turn, seem content with supporting roles, although the piano gets loud and busy here more than in our previous post-hiatus run-throughs.

At 4:20 they are all starting to kick up a fuss, finally, but it is just here that Garcia starts up the theme. This takes us pretty directly to the verse. Jerry does sound markedly older here, although he can still hit the notes more easily than he could a decade later. The backing vocals are kind of hard to discern this time, and I can’t make out Donna at all this time.

Oddly, they return to the intro lick after the verse, as they did on New Year’s Eve, and as they did not on the previous version at Nassau. They plug right away as though they’re starting again. Garcia’s guitar tone is really beautiful here—I am a big fan of the sound he got from 1968 to 1974, and particularly of the early days of the Wolf, but the latter sounds great here. In general, his sound changes can be tracked at least as well (if not better) by era rather than by guitar, and he’s already starting to get the soulfully pellucid sound he’d get out of the Tiger, and that he’d lean into more and more throughout the 80s.

At around 7:55 Garcia starts playing some off notes that clash nicely with the other instruments, and the band responds—now we’re getting some weirdness! The drummers and Lesh open up a bit here, although Godchaux and Weir keep a groove going. There’s a satisfying peak at about 9:30, and they start to break apart more; Garcia’s peak at 10:00 is followed by some rousing up-the-neck action by Phil, and this gets the crowd going. Alas, they divert to Not Fade Away rather than continue. Listen to the melody Jerry plays starting at :15 of the latter—what is that? Maybe it’s just a random melody, but it sounds like he’s quoting another song I can’t put my finger on. In any case, it doesn’t last long, as they start singing immediately after.

I really love this one. As with 1973-02-22, the only demerit is for brevity, but there is some excellent playing here, even if they don’t pursue it as far as one would like. Oddly (and lamentably), after three consecutive Dark Stars, they put it to bed for another three years after this, making this the final Dark Star with Keith Godchaux.

What was said:

Thursday, April 20, 2023

181. 1979-01-10

113446 ** Nassau 18:24

Main theme at :07.
First verse at 9:09.
Goes into Drums.

Having revived Dark Star at Bill Graham’s request, they briefly kept it in the repertoire, playing it again 10 days later, then once in 1981 and another time in 1984, before finally bringing it back in the fall of 1989. They again go right into the main theme out of the intro riff, and they hammer away at the two chord pattern for a while—the beginning of Dark Star has become a more predictable groove now rather than the launching pad it once was. Garcia’s playing is starting to evidence the flurrying style that will become more prevalent—perhaps too much so—in the latter part of the year. Godchaux is much less discursive then he once was; since his playing is not quite as rote here as it was on the New Year’s version, however, the chord framework is a bit less foursquare this time. In short, the early innings see them getting into a somewhat looser groove this time, although they’re still pretty close to home.

By the five-minute mark the potential for things to get interesting is manifested. Two factors seem to keep them earthbound, however—the relentless two-drummer groove, and the relative quiescence of Lesh, who is quite low in the mix here, and seems to be playing almost like a bass player in any case. Nevertheless, Weir is throwing up some tense chords, and Jerry’s busy guitar work is never without interest. By the time we’re seven minutes deep Dark Star has evolved into a hefty and propulsive jam, compensating with forward momentum for a lack of real surprises. By 8:30, however, Jerry is broadly hinting at the theme, and it seems like we’ve traveled as far from home as we’re likely to get before the verse hits.

Once again, Garcia doesn’t actually state the theme again before singing, but we’ve never left it very far behind. Might I say that I kind of like Donna’s harmonies on the refrain? I have a feeling I’ll be in the minority on this. On the other hand, it does seem to contribute to the more “normal” feel of the whole thing in this era of the band. For whatever reason, they bring back the usual post-verse lick—maybe they discussed it after New Year’s Eve—and they crank right on into a jam that isn’t too far from where they left off.

As they go on, they allow themselves to get away from the two-chordedness of it all; they hit a remarkable peak starting at around 13:00, with Garcia blasting a tremolo and then crashing them back into the chord pattern for a bit. The drummers keep plugging away—we’ve sacrificed exploration for power. At around 14:40 the jam settles down and becomes more diffuse, and we’ve entered what will become a familiar space for the rest of their career—a liminal place between a full-blown improvisation and a drum break, with the band adding what feel like addenda to the main body of the piece, with one foot out the door.

At 15:45 Garcia gets into one of post-Sputnik rolling figures we sometimes encounter, and he stretches it out for a couple of minutes. Weir mirrors him, but Lesh is at this point inaudible, although at a few points he pops back in—I get a sense that he’s been playing a bit, but that he’s not coming through the amps, because his line is very quiet in those few spots where I can detect it. The unravelling of this pseudo-Sputnik section takes us all the way to the drum break.

There’s nowhere near enough Phil, and the drummers keep the beat nailed down in a way that’s somewhat stifling. On the other hand, we get the late-70s Dead pursuing an extended instrumental segment in a pretty satisfying way—it’s good music, man! I suppose I’m trying to say that it’s not a peak-era Dark Star, but it’s not half bad.

**Note that I've moved to Relisten. I hope this is temporary, but the Internet Archive is currently unusable, as they've removed the timer bar. For previous versions, the timings on Relisten should be the same.

What was said:

Monday, April 10, 2023

180. 1978-12-31

139554 Winterland 12:26 (1. Dark Star 11:21; 2. Dark Star Jam 1:05)

Main theme at :00
First verse at 6:48.
Verse melody at 2. :23.

Goes into Other One, then Wharf Rat.

Four years have gone by; apparently it was at the request of Bill Graham that they dusted off Dark Star for this New Year’s show after not playing it in their previous post-hiatus shows. The intro sets a quick and bouncy pace. They start with the theme, which Keith keeps tinkling away in the background. Garcia lights into some fine cascades, and Keith joins him for a bit approaching the minute mark, but the band is still cranking out the two-chord pattern.

At 1:56 Garcia plays some beautiful variations on the verse melody. It’s not an inauspicious beginning, and Garcia is outstanding, yet one wonders if they still have the wherewithal to break out of the basic theme pattern and move into some more adventurous territory, which may prove more difficult with a second drummer back in the fold. Lesh plays some intriguing little runs to mirror Garcia, for instance at 4:40. At about 5:00 Jerry’s tone rounds off into a hornlike sound; in later years, he’d have switched on the MIDI here. The band gathers intensity; at 6:00 they are peaking, and Garcia is playing something very like Bright Star; they take it back down into the theme pattern here, and move right to the verse, complete with harmonies from Donna Jean on “Shall we go…”

They play the beginning theme after the verse, and go right back to a two-chord jam. Again, most of the focus is on Jerry. At 9:30 Phil pushes them away from the chord pattern a bit, but they don’t stray very far. At 10:10 Garcia initiates a Sputnik-like pattern that seems to herald a change; the thing could really take off here, were they not almost out of it. But it doesn’t end as quickly as the tracking indicates—they’re still in no man’s land at :20 of Other One when Lesh starts pushing toward the latter-named song, and the transition is still fairly gradual until 1:20, when there can no longer be any doubt. Similarly, there is no definite return to Dark Star where it is tracked to be; at 2. :23 Jerry plays the verse melody a few times before heading into Wharf Rat.

This cannot be said to be a particularly adventurous version, and in a way it feels even shorter than it is. It wouldn’t be fair to call it perfunctory, however; it must have been wonderful to hear Garcia spinning out his lines with confidence and power, and for what it is, this is fine and dandy.

What was said

Sunday, April 9, 2023

179. 1974-10-18

110771 Winterland Jam 11:47>Dark Star 23:51

Main theme at 5:42 and 7:21.
First verse at 7:45.
Goes into Morning Dew.

This is the final version from the golden age of Dark Star, played during the legendary run at Winterland which served as a tentative farewell for the band as they were going on indefinite hiatus, perhaps never to return (as it turned out, they played their next show five months later, although they were mostly inactive as a live unit until June, 1976). Lesh and Ned Lagin start this segment of the show with a 26-minute run through Seastones, a regular feature of late 1974 Dead shows which is quite variable in quality, but which generally deserves far more attention than many Deadheads seem to be willing to give it. I recommend starting with this track, particularly since Garcia and Weir pitch in well before the break, so the developmental arc of the improvisation that will become Dark Star begins here.

This is all rather spacey stuff, as one might expect. The track titled “Jam” begins as Kreutzmann enters with some cymbal work, and then some flourishes on the skins; everyone besides Godchaux is soon in evidence. They shift into a tentative funky bit after about a minute, with Lesh playing more recognizable bass sounds now. Kreutzmann works it hard, but mostly only Phil is coming along at first. Soon it’s pared down to just the drums, but not for long…the rest can’t decide whether they’re in or out at first, until about 3:45 when Garcia and at last (I think) Godchaux start to get something going.

This is a loose and ropy jam, but we trust that it’s headed somewhere. Weir is more hesitant than usual, darting into the spaces between the other guitar and the keyboards and fading out again; he vacillates a bit between getting something funky going and answering Garcia’s line. Slowly but surely, though, it’s congealing, with almost imperceptibly gathering momentum, into a groove. By about 7:30 this diffracts into something more melodic and again more tentative, at least at first, but also somehow more interesting—the Dead are cooking something up, now.

At 9:20 Jerry starts working a melodic idea that starts to sound convincing, but they’re still in no hurry to pull it together. They keep bouncing off one another at odd angles, which is not without its appeal, interspersed with moments of concord. At 11:30 Garcia’s line takes on a Dark Star-like cadence, and the track switches, somewhat arbitrarily. By :50 into the next track Weir is suggesting the theme, Kreutzmann drops into a familiar swing, and by 1:20 this is somehow recognizably Dark Star; although they still haven’t passed the point of no return, the tracking seems justified now, anyway.

Listen to Jerry’s slide at 3:32, which he repeats several times. He doesn’t play the theme, but he doesn’t have to—that’s what he’s alluding to now, and everyone knows it: we can now infer with a fair degree of confidence that the whole band is now consciously playing Dark Star (if such a thing matters). There’s a beautifully lazy peak that begins at 5:12 when Jerry climbs to the G and hangs us up there until we’re ready for the glorious ascent to A, the expected and familiar gift of the tonic lifting us finally into unequivocal Dark Star consciousness, a resounding “yes” whose echoes tumble us down joyously toward the theme, as if we are being rewarded for the past 42 minutes with a reminder that the return home is often the most transcendent stage of a journey. The point is punctuated and then hammered home; first there is a repeated walk-up to the tonic, followed by a more emphatic return to the theme at 7:21.

They come out of the verse in much the same mood, sliding directly back into a mellow but focused Dark Star jam. Weir is particularly assertive here, at times surmounting Jerry’s line, still equivocating between a second lead and soul guitar flourishes. The band is very soon in full flight, and for the first time in what seems like forever in the post-verse section there are no gestures toward a space jam or a meltdown. Lagin and Godchaux are both very active now, without crowding the soundstage; they buoy up an ebullient Garcia, who at 11:53 starts crashing into an A power chord to punctuate his line, 1969-style. They come over the top and float down into a glimmering keyboard bed; there are hints of a shift toward a minor tonality, and the jam begins to disperse a bit, relaxing into an almost post-coital atmosphere of satisfaction.

At 15:10 we’ve crossed into a new territory, a gorgeously unhurried minor-key jam. Lagin has receded quite a bit again; Godchaux, Weir and even Lesh lay down a springy base; at first Garcia softly bounces on it like a mattress before subsiding at 16:50. Now Weir is in the lead, and Keith and Phil are getting funkier. Jerry sees something there he can work with, and he comes back with some support. Syncopated sounds are popping up everywhere, and Garcia eases his way back into the lead. Lagin comes back into the picture now with an uncharacteristically loud and basic emphasis that underlines what’s already there.

At 20:00 it sounds like it’s starting to disperse a little, and they let it start slipping away, with a few last flares as Lesh briefly takes the reins. Now at 21:30 the jam has reached a point of exhaustion; it simmers on, like water on a burner that has just been switched off. At 22:18 Jerry initiates a tentative meltdown, but we’re still going off the boil; Jerry fritters around and then gently crashes into Morning Dew.

There is a temptation to emphasize extra-musical considerations here—a kind of victory lap for the band; a farewell to the audience, and/or to Dark Star; a bittersweet finale to a glorious era of music, etc. However tempting it may be to try to ignore all this in favor of a more “pure” consideration of the music, it nevertheless seems undeniable that there is a kind of valedictory mood communicated by the music, regardless of the occasion, although I can’t deny that extrinsic factors may be influencing my judgment. It is simply staggering to consider what the Dead achieved between 1968 and 1974 with Dark Star alone, and this is by any measure a worthy addition to the canon. The arc of this sequence is best considered when we begin with Seastones, since the band gets most of the weirdness out of its system before Dark Star even begins. In another sense, the arc that begins in 1968 seems to provide the appropriate vantage; the focused and melodic jamming of this Dark Star signs us off with a sense of justice and completion. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we will ever be satisfied; fortunately, there is more to come.

What was said

Thursday, March 30, 2023

178. 1974-09-10

135699 London 31:18

Bright Star at 20:15.
First verse at 22:29.
Goes into Morning Dew.

The intro riff takes us into a deliberately paced jam with Lesh very high in the mix. Everything is otherwise very balanced and clear. Weir plays a rolling triplet figure at 1:24 that I feel sure we’ve heard numerous times before, although I don’t know if we’ve ever discussed it. He uses this as a template and builds out from there, subtly pushing the jam along. Godchaux adds color on the Rhodes.

The jam gathers steam, moving along cohesively, with Garcia picking up the triplet theme. This gives the music a surging feel, with several small peaks occurring in the first five minutes. At around 5:20 they start to get restless though, and the edges start to fray. Lesh is hunting around for a lick, playing something sort of Footprints-like several times, but at a very slow pace. They seem to be hovering, waiting for a new direction. Garcia spins off some frenetic runs, and at 6:55 Lesh starts the Elastic Ping Pong lick, but he doesn’t stick with it.

Garcia launches into some high triplets at 6:13 and Lesh and Godchaux find something to work with here as the jam ascends to a new plateau. Phil brings the Elastic Ping Pong back at 8:42, which they take in stride—they seem disinclined to build a whole jam segment around this now. The jam gets kind of weird instead, with Phil edging them into adjacent tonalities. Various modular possibilities are hinted at, but they opt to keep it free. They are creeping toward more conventional territory, though, and at about 11:10 Lesh and Godchaux have converged on a basic groove in A.

At 12:14 Lesh slips in the King Solomon’s Marbles lick a few times. Godchaux has been building a head of steam, and at 12:50 he takes flight; he’s mostly grooving along, but he starts elaborating his part with some healthy flourishes. The jam has taken on a fusion flavor. It all seems to wind down at 14:45, and there’s an interlude with a minor cast to it, with Lesh pushing them in sort of a Spanish Jam direction before leaving the scene for a bit.

Kreutzmann subsides, and Lesh bows out again. At 16:35 we’re down to a duet between Jerry and Keith. Lesh and Weir come back pretty soon with some subtle additions, but Kreutzmann stays out until 17:30. There’s a melodic minor sort of Spanish Jam theme continuing throughout, although at a very relaxed pace. Kreutzmann gets a little backbeat going, with a similar feel to Death Don’t Have no Mercy. Keith duly brings in some ghostly organ tones, and it’s turning into a really beautiful jam, but at 19:20 Garcia declares that it’s all over and leads them back toward the Dark Star theme.

They pivot very smoothly, bringing the energy up and edging back into Dark Star territory, and as the jam swells Garcia breaks into Bright Star at 20:15. They take their time getting to the verse, though; Bright Star aside, it seems like it’s been awhile since we’ve had this kind of Dark Star jam. They draw it out, and eventually Garcia sings the verse without ever explicitly stating the Dark Star theme.

They enter what at first seems like a place of swirling indecision after the post-verse lick. Garcia sets the agenda with his rolling wah-wah line, and they let it build into the next thing. Garcia, Weir and Godchaux play triplets, and Jerry nudges them toward a meltdown. The band gains focus and cohesion on the way there, hitting a thunderous peak at 27:30; as soon as they hit it, Godchaux drops in a funky riff, endorsed by Lesh and Kreutzmann. Jerry is emitting otherworldly sounds, and Weir is of a similar mind. The band, then, is half grooving and half melting, until at 28:33 both camps suddenly subside. A space jam ensues. Godchaux still seems inclined to groove, but now everyone else has decided to melt. They hang around like this for a couple of minutes until Garcia starts Morning Dew, which (spoiler alert) will be the best one of the year.

This is a tremendous Dark Star.

What was said:

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

177. 1974-07-25

12656 24:00 (1. Dark Star 20:57; 2. Slipknot Jam 3:03)

Goes into Stella Blue.

This rendition feels a tad slower than other recent ones at the outset, although these things should of course be scientifically measured. Garcia is doing some outrageously great things in the first couple of minutes; otherwise, it feels like a holding pattern at first. Lesh is very active and assertive in the higher registers of his bass, which generates a little excitement. Overall the first five minutes of jamming has lots of pleasurable twists and turns, although it doesn’t have a lot of direction yet.

At about 4:50 the band threatens to break into a groove, with Lesh pumping an ostinato line, but then he drops out and things get more dispersed. At 5:40 Kreutzmann seems to be bucking for a drum solo, and everyone plays as if they’re just tossing in a few more ideas before subsiding. Lesh returns at some point between 6:00 and 7:00, but only to throw in a few scattered comments. At around 7:20 Garcia has thoughts about instigating a frenetic jam, and as Lesh cooperates this comes together for a little while. But Phil doesn’t really commit and it gets scattered again.

At 8:25 Garcia and Weir have a Sputnik-like idea, and they let this play out for a little while. Lesh is mostly absent again. At 9:23 Weir starts playing Let it Grow, or something very like it. This brings some cohesion, except that Lesh wants no part of it. By 10:45 they seem to have no ideas left, and the jam is sputtering to a halt. Lesh is nowhere to be found. At 11:12 it’s down to Godchaux and Kreutzmann.

Weir gamely starts comping at 11:29, but he can’t really get it going and he drops out again. Garcia and Lesh remain absent. At 12:05 Lesh tries to pick up on what Keith is doing. Weir invents a little descending part, and Garcia adds some chiming chops. It seems to be getting somewhere now, a kind of fusion jam that doesn’t quite take off but isn’t half bad either. By 14:15 it seems to have run it’s course, but they’re all still working together, and now a frenetic jam is layered over Kreutzmann’s heavy beat.

This runs down at 16:25, and Lesh lays out again. Jerry is tremolo picking, perhaps hinting at a Tiger although his tone is as yet relatively clean. At 17:45 Keith wants to get funky, and there is a desultory attempt to oblige him by the others (save Lesh, who seems to have left the building) but this doesn’t really take off, and we are left with a kind of aimless chaos. Garcia kicks on the wah pedal, perhaps thinking a meltdown can pull this one out of the fire. It seems like it’s about to get there, but the energy drops again, and at 2. :15 Jerry starts playing Slipknot! licks. This pulls them together a bit (just a bit), but there’s still no bass and no real center of gravity.

As always there are interesting moments, but overall this one is a mess. It’s too scattered to ever really hit, and it has to be regarded as one of the lesser versions of the era.

What was said:

Thursday, March 16, 2023

SUPPLEMENTAL: 1974-06-28 (JAM)

139780 Boston ~31:07 (Weather Report Suite 47:02, from about 16:05 on; Dark Star-like segment begins at 26:00).

Mind Left Body jam at 20:40.
Dark Star chords at 26:00.
Tiger at 37:58 and 40:43.

Goes into US Blues.

A raging version of Let it Grow blazes along until about 16:05, when they switch gears and settle in for a long jam. Garcia and Weir start winding around each other, with Weir playing the kind of duelist role usually occupied by Lesh. The latter chimes in a bit at first, with everyone else laying out. Phil eventually drops out as well, and from 18:30 it becomes a lovely guitar duet. Jerry kicks on the wah at 19:15, and Bob accompanies him with chords, harmonics and arpeggios. Beautiful washes of melody roll across the hall—it’s a thrilling segment.

At 20:40 or so the guitarists start to slide into the Mind Left Body chord sequence. Kreutzmann strikes up the beat, but it otherwise stays a Weir and Garcia production until Lesh and Godchaux start to slide back in at around 22:35. Lesh is playing very softly at first. If you listen very closely, you can hear a small hiccup at 23:08 when he briefly takes it to the E chord, but the others aren’t ready for that yet. I’m not sure if they ever count this part, or how they keep track, but it doesn’t always line up! They somehow all agree on the E at 24:00 and the jam gets more insistent, with Lesh at last fully present again.

They ease back on the throttle again, leaning into it each time they reach the E. MLB starts to get less defined, and at 26:00 the Dark Star framework starts to poke through a little, but then it starts to disperse--even though they don’t keep the A/E minor change going long, now we’re in a place that could be part of the intro section of a Dark Star. By 29:30 this all starts to scatter, and one of the very loose jams that we’re now used to starts to spread itself out. A very loose exploration of minor chords leads to a repeating two-chord pattern in 6/8 by 30:15, and the band pulls together again.

At 31:18 Garcia takes off! and now everybody takes off. This segment is somewhat reminiscent of some of the jamming they did during Clementine circa 1968, only with a more forward beat. The band is playing with an intense focus, and this becomes an extended peak with Garcia leaning on the wah pedal. From around 34:00 Jerry’s it seems to me there are some oblique hints at Dark Star in Garcia’s lead, although these might be vague enough to be anything. It’s not so much that he plays a Dark Star melody as he seems to be winding up for something, and if this were a Dark Star it might be the main theme.

By 36:45 or so, however, we seem to be heading toward a meltdown instead, with Garcia’s wah effect becoming more pronounced amid Tiger-like expostulations. I pinpointed a Tiger at 37:58, which is somewhat arbitrary because Garcia actually pulls back a bit at this point; call it a quasi-Tiger if you must. The immediate sequel is weirdness, as for the second this remarkably focused jam scatters out and gets multi-directional. They veer back toward Tiger again, and this time they fully commit. Godchaux starts to play some very funky Rhodes to bring them back, and a fast and bubbly fusion jam starts percolating through the hall.

Who decides that they are now playing US Blues? Probably Lesh; in any case, it happens rather suddenly at 43:35, and no one is slow on the uptake, which makes the instigator difficult to identify for certain. They draw it out for a good 3:35 but eventually Garcia starts singing, and we are back in the realm of somewhat, relatively, more or less normal rock and roll, or whatever you want to call that other thing the Dead do.

Although this is probably not really a Dark Star—no main theme, no verse—it is, if anything, more Dark Star than Dark Star. Accordingly, I've written up the entire thing rather than zeroing in on the brief section with Dark Star chords. I haven’t given this its own number, but if anything is in the spirit of this project, this surely is. This is not just one of the high points of 1974—it’s one of the high points of Grateful Dead music, which is to say it’s one of the high points of human life on earth. If you don’t dig this—well, I was about to say that the Dead aren’t for you, but what I really want to say is, listen to it as many times as it takes until you do.

What was said:

176. 1974-06-23

122269 Miami 22:04 (1. Dark Star 17:21, 2. Spanish Jam 4:43)

Spanish jam at 2. :31.
Goes into US Blues.

This counts as a Dark Star, I say, particularly as it starts with the intro riff, although there’s no verse. The band sounds quite focused at the outset compared to some recent versions. Weir has gone harmonic crazy, and this works well here, providing a springy bed for Garcia and Godchaux (on Rhodes). Lesh drops in and out, and he gives us a particularly long break from about 1:25 to 2:13. The playing is still somewhat diffuse, as we often see in this era, but at the same time it has momentum and drive, although this can vary from minute to minute.

Between 3:00 and 5:00 the groove dawns falsely a few times before a mostly Garcia/Godchaux interlude spins us out into rather uncertain territory. Lesh seems disinclined to establish a groove, inserting sporadic commentary instead; Weir tries to get one going once or twice, but soon subsides. The music has become quite scattered as we pass into the seventh minute, but now Kreutzmann seems determined to get something going. At first there isn’t a concerted response, but at 6:23 Garcia gets a lightly prancing Latin thing going, and it comes together a little. This doesn’t last, though, and Bill moves on to something else.

The eight minute brings spacier thoughts of impending doom, and this seems to fire them up a bit; at about 8:10 Jerry decides this is going in the direction of a meltdown, and this gives them a sense of direction. There’s a crazily askew groove brewing now, but it peters out by 9:15 without ever having culminated in a meltdown or a groove…then suddenly, from around 9:30, it’s coming to a peak…not exactly a Tiger, but some kind of cataclysm. This calms down into flat-out weirdness, and again there are nascent grooves bubbling under, mostly instigated by the indefatigable Weir. Also again, none really catch on.

Between 11:00 and 12:00 there is a further unraveling; Garcia plays some chirpy stuff, then gets into one of his Sputnik-adjacent outpourings. Again, Lesh is in and out, contributing but staying on the sidelines, at times laying out. Some kind of crazy groove emerges, mostly driven by Jerry and Keith, and at 12:48 it’s ratified by Phil, and now things are popping off. Garcia is again threatening to take us to the Tiger. But Phil is not a driver of grooves tonight, even if he is participating; his role is more (than usual) that of another lead player.

This makes it more striking at 14:45 when he lays down a brooding undercurrent and then at 15:10 finally bursts into some funky riffing. Now the band really takes off! They hammer on it, regroup at 16:10, and then hammer some more. By 16:30 Garcia has some power chords going, then some chiming double stops higher up the neck, culminating in pellucid high tremolo bursts, and then at 17:08 there’s an allusion to Dark Star before they come down into a brief interlude that makes room for a soaring Spanish jam, kicked off by Garcia this time with a heavy minor chord.

If you listen to Phil’s musical declamations at 3:45, you may become enlightened. His playing is viciously heavy as at 4:19 he smashes out some power chords and Keith pedals along until at 4:30 a shuffle beat announces the next jam, an extended intro to US Blues that is now justly famous.

Those of us who have been a bit disgruntled by the more abstract and wandering nature of Dark Star jams lately will doubtless not be entirely convinced by this performance, but once again I cannot but endorse it. This is mostly very free jamming, and grooves are largely (but not entirely) shunned. But, as the Rolling Stones say, I like it. It should also be noted that this whole sequence must be considered, as there is an arc here from somewhat chaotic improvisation to the focused blast of Spanish jam and the driving US Blues intro section. Verdict: essential.

What was said:

Monday, March 6, 2023

175. 1974-05-14

163764 Missoula 26:40

Main theme at :00 and 12:14.
First verse at 12:56.
Tiger at 19:45.
Goes into China Doll.

A vigorous Let it Grow jam drops into a brief interstice and then they kick Dark Star off with the main theme, eschewing the opening riff. The jamming, typically for the era, is rather loose and multidirectional. Godchaux has a wah effect on the electric piano at times. At 3:05 everyone but Kreutzmann, Garcia and Weir drops out; this goes on until about the five minute mark, when Lesh and Godchaux come back.

At about the six minute mark, Kreutzmann drops back to the cymbals and the jamming gets more tentative and spacey, with Phil laying out again. The latter comes back at 6:45, and Jerry starts a Sputnik-like roll at 6:55. He stays with it, and at some point we lose Phil again. There’s a pretty long bassless jam up until 9:30. The ministrations of Weir and Godchaux on each side of the mix give this a kind of fusion feel.

Even with Phil back, the jam stays kind of diffuse; at 11:00 it starts to get heavier and at the same time spacier, but this quickly gives way to a kind of pointillist interlude until at 11:38 Jerry seems to be edging toward the theme and they pull together. The theme duly arrives about 45 seconds later, and Lesh leans into it, giving it a ponderous feel. They don’t linger over it, though, going right to the verse.

The exit from the verse is very heavy at first with loud, overdriven bass. Garcia jumps right in with some slightly distorted lead that sounds a bit different from his usual approach in this segment, and in general things take a somewhat different direction. It’s a kind of space jam with everyone playing drawn out notes, generating a dramatic, atonal, and somewhat anxious soundscape.

This shifts into a mellow variant on the Tiger by around 19:40, but by ten seconds later it is full-blown and vicious. They come down the other side, landing on a funky beat as Lesh comes out front. Jerry supplies some piercing leads as it becomes clear they’re committed, and as they come together they generate some excitement down the back stretch, getting extra weird and then coming to a rousing peak prior to the slide into China Doll.

This might be as scattered and diffuse as Dark Star gets, but it never fails to be gripping. The last few minutes are particularly stunning, and overall this is a great stretch of music.

What was said

Saturday, February 25, 2023

174. 1974-02-24

151723 Winterland 29:21 (29:00)

Main theme at 18:26.
First verse at 19:04.
Goes into Morning Dew.

The beginning seems slightly more sprightly than we are getting used to. The beauty the band is capable of is in full flower from the first note; the introductory jam doesn’t do anything really novel, but it unfolds with the inevitability of perfection. There are subtle shifts between major and minor modalities, without a definitive decision being made either way; the mutual sensitivity and communicative acumen of the instrumentalists lets them maintain the kind of cohesive flexibility that they have been honing for five years now.

At 4:45 Garcia settles into a rolling pattern that gathers the rest in and drives the jam forward. Kreutzmann pushes a little harder, and the beat lopes forward for a bit until they subside without peaking into a brooding minor soundscape at 6:30. Here tension builds, a gathering storm. Another sally is soon underway, but again they don’t push it too far. Listen from 8:35, as it starts to seem like everyone is echoing everyone else; a sort of fractal beauty is the anarchic result.

By 10:30 we’re spiraling down into a hole; although there’s a beat, it’s just one more element, not a foundation. A minute later the whole thing lifts; they drive toward a peak without ever narrowing their focus. They ease over the summit at 12:40, and now it starts coming together; they open a space for the theme, which they nevertheless withhold, although there are strong hints before they wander off into abstraction.

At 14:35 Lesh and Kreutzmann have something tribal and funky, yet still tentative, going on; the others calibrate their abstract caterwauling to the beat, and another peak is attained. Lesh starts jabbing at the Elastic Ping Pong riff, and at 15:45 he finally uncorks it. He soon wanders off, though; the band is chugging along, and that seems to satisfy him. He brings back a variant of it at 17:01, and this again pushes things along, and he again strays. It’s a brilliantly executed segment, and it’s hard to think of a better exemplar of Phil’s improvisational genius, as he manages to drive the band through the jam without ever locking into a pattern for more than 10 seconds.

The peak at 17:45 is more emphatic than anything previous, and now there is a big windup for the theme. They don’t linger long, but head right for the verse which Garcia enthusiastically brays, a bit out of tune at first. Little matter, he sounds like he’s really into it tonight.

They have so much momentum that they seem unable to pull back into space. Weir hits some nice a descending pattern, and then goes right on to take the lead. This he shares with Godchaux, as the others accompany them. Garcia seems ready to reclaim it at 21:40, and now there is a three-pronged melody with Lesh taking an uncharacteristically supporting role in this segment. At 22:30 they finally wind down, and the audience cheers as the band heads into space.

Bob is still feeling his oats, and he still seems to be leading things here. At 23:55 there seems to be a group decision to take it to a meltdown, but then Weir calls and audible at 24:15 and starts Spanish Jam. Kreutzmann can dig it, but nobody else seems too committed, and by 24:55 it starts going somewhere else. Jerry is playing some pellucid and otherworldly slide licks, and Keith seems to want to rock out, but they all congeal around Garcia, although it takes them a little while to determine what they’re going to do.

Jerry gives them another nudge at around 27:00, getting into a pattern they can rally around and a lovely two-chord jam pops out. Once it’s established, Garcia shoots for the skies, and the music that ensues is heavenly indeed. Another chord somehow gets into the mix—now there’s a B part, and somehow they’re all more or less together. The next time through they let it get away, slipping into a magnificent Morning Dew.

This is where it’s at. The post-verse stuff, in fact, is much better than I remembered it being—there is some indecision, and it is possible to regret that the final section doesn’t last longer, but only because it is so painfully beautiful, and yet so temporary and fragile—like life itself, I suppose. But the mystery and power of Dark Star never ceases—it’s always playing somewhere. Take heart!

What was said

Thursday, February 16, 2023

173. 1973-12-18

113498 Florida 21:44
Main theme at 10:54.
First verse at 11:26.
Tiger at 19:33.
Goes into Eyes of the World.

There’s a pause after Weather Report Suite, and they quickly slide into Dark Star. It’s a pretty slow tempo at the start, which is not unusual for this era, but it feels pretty focused out of the gate. Things get a little strange already about a minute in, as Garcia visits some outside tones and Weir takes a cue from him there; pretty soon Lesh gets a feedback thing going on again. There’s a little peak near the two minute mark, and they keep the intensity high for about a minute, and then they begin to meander a bit more, thoughtfully.

Godchaux is starting to be audible on the electric piano, and when he switches to the acoustic piano he gets even louder. There are peaks and valleys as we’d expect, and the band seems in fine shape tonight. Garcia falls into repetitive patterns, and the others rally around him. With Keith up in the mix, this all sounds really good on the Miller transfer.

At 7:37 they pause and the theme could be imminent, but instead they seem to want to start another jam first. From around 7:55 Weir starts proposing an MLB jam, and Garcia pulls out the slide, but it’s something a little different here; not quite MLB, but in the neighborhood. It’s a little jauntier, and the pattern repeats quicker; when they get to the part where they hang on one chord (if it were MLB) there’s a little confusion. Weir and Garcia wind up on something a bit like Other One, and Lesh jumps on it at 9:40, even hinting at his intro roll at 10:01. This runs its course by 10:54, and they settle on the main theme; from there, they quickly head to the verse.

There seems to be something brewing after the post-verse lick. Lesh is again using the overdriven amp sound he employed to such effect on the 6th, and Garcia gets the volume knobs going as we seem to be dropping into a space jam. Phil gets louder and more dominant as it goes, exploring feedback sounds, and Weir and Garcia seem like his accompaniment here. There’s not much happening with Godchaux in this segment, and Kreutzmann is laying out. Jerry has something really eerie going that starts to come to the fore a bit more.

At 17:48 someone (perhaps Kreutzmann) yells “There’s a blown speaker in here somewhere!” a couple of times. It seemed to be contributing to the space jam, whatever it is! I assume it is one of Phil’s, and it sounds pretty cool. A bit after 19:00 Garcia has gone into wah-wah meltdown mode, and he plays some Tiger licks. He then starts some melodic stuff at 20:04, and Weir joins him while Phil splashes around in the blown speaker sounds a bit more. They eventually subside into a brief drum break, and then they play Eyes of the World.

The band has been on a hot streak with Dark Star since late summer. This is a really nice one, although it doesn’t seem particularly ambitious. The jamming is good, and the post-verse space stuff is intriguing. Not a world-beater, but a good version.

What was said:

Friday, February 10, 2023

172. 1973-12-06

132361 Cleveland 43:32
Main theme at 20:53.
First verse at 25:00.
Goes into Eyes of the World.

There is noodling and tuning, and there are flashes of Dark Star there, and then it sort of gradually turns into a jam, with the intro riff nowhere in sight. Above, for this reason, I just left the timing of the track as is, without determining exactly when Dark Star begins. A good four minutes in, we’re still hearing the kind of stuff that could be a pre-song warm-up goof, but instead the second-longest Dark Star of the Dead’s career is already underway.

By around 4:30 it’s coming together more, and by the five minute mark there is probably an unspoken consensus that they are playing something—and maybe even that this “something” is Dark Star, which is sort of seeping through, particularly in Garcia’s lines. By 7:00 there’s a funky beat, and if this is Dark Star, we’ve gone beyond the initial phase and into the first excursion of the introductory section.

The core remains nebulous, but in the best way—the band is gelling while holding each other at arm’s length, refusing to converge in a way that sometimes annoys my fellow travelers in this project, but throughout the year they have, in hit or miss fashion, developed a way of playing this way that can be very effective. There’s a bit of a peak toward the ten minute mark, and this is again rather Dark Star-ish for a few moments, and as they ease away from it Garcia flashes Bright Star at 10:23. They continue sliding down the backside of the peak, and at 11:00 they reach a point where we almost expect to hear the theme, but this is not to be. Instead they come to another peak, slowly and in exaggerated fashion this time, with Godchaux’s swirling Rhodes laying down a carpet for the entrance of Lesh’s distorted bass which swells to a crescendo at 12:10. Garcia, Weir and Kreutzmann lay in a lilting background while Phil keeps the distortion swelling; Godchaux splits the difference, until at 12:43 he sides with the melody team and Phil subsides into the cantering bounce which, of course, they almost immediately abandon.

There follows a series of feints—they keep threatening to coalesce into a bouncy jam, and then pulling it back again. Garcia keeps proposing a rather majestic melodic Dark Star thread which he then alternates with frenetic runs. At 15:00 Lesh has one of his funky riffs going, and the others soon converge on a frenetic jam which he weaves himself into, and this comes to a thrilling peak at around 15:40. The back end of this is promising something light and jazzy, but as usual they don’t belabor the point.

At 16:30 Jerry’s onto one of his Sputnik-adjacent rolls, which Weir complements; Kreutzmann subsides while the Lesh and Godchaux turn up the minor-key atmospherics. Lesh settles into a long distorted tone, and Keith switches over to the Sputnik team for a while; the two tendencies weave together into a shimmering mesh as we cross the 18-minute mark, and the music swells and hangs in the air, radiating power and beauty—a stunning moment.

Jerry’s Sputnik has become a jangling lick; this could almost be the transition to a new song, if there was a song that started this way. There should be. At 19:35 Jerry starts up a lead line, and Lesh’s bass oscillates and buzzes—I don’t know how long he’s been manipulating one tone now!—and then he starts layering on feedback. At 20:53 Jerry drops in to the main theme; they could put down their instruments now and walk off, and this would be one of the best things they’ve played all year. Instead, they draw the theme out and elaborate on it for better than four glorious minutes before Garcia sings the verse.

Keith seems keen to grab the reins as we enter the second half, and he remains quite assertive as Lesh’s loud bass comes to the fore. Garcia is backing them with some noisy rumbling vaguely in the neighborhood of his bell-tolling tone as they settle into an atmospheric space segment. Kreutzmann is mostly laying out, and there’s no indication that a structured jam is on the horizon; in the quieter spots we can hear the audience declaring their appreciation of this strange music.

It gets freakier, and quite a bit of feedback is coming out of the amps. Phil’s got a fuzzy blown-out sound going now; it oozes out to the periphery and surrounds the space into which Garcia (or Weir?) drops some loud feedback and volume swells; at times, though, it’s hard to discern who is doing what, but there’s a really big sound happening here. At 35:19 Godchaux comes back, tentatively; Kreutzmann assays a rhythm on the cymbals, and more quotidian music starts to emerge as we cross into the 37th minute.

Jerry and Keith get a stereophonic frenetic jam going, and the drums kick in. Jerry’s line veers between harshness and clarity, feinting toward a Tiger and a more melodic direction by turns. Weir is quite recessed here, with the other players drowning him out in the mix as they further coalesce into a fleet jam. By about 40:30 Garcia seems to be fading as well, with Godchaux’s Rhodes coming to the fore, and there’s a short drum and keyboard interlude until 41:04 when Jerry and Phil fade back in, more or less picking up where they had left off. At this point they seem to have exhausted this jam, and there’s not much left to do but let it go and head into Eyes of the World, although they rally for a bit of a last hurrah in the final moments.

What can I say about this? This Dark Star is absolutely stunning; a masterpiece.

What was said

Thursday, February 2, 2023

171. 1973-11-30

(instrumental) 124131 Boston 9:37

Main theme at :00.
Goes into Eyes of the World.

The jam at the end of Let it Grow increasingly veers away from the form of that song; Garcia is playing what JSegel calls the “it’s all the same” lick, and then Lesh picks it up before they drop into the Dark Star theme at the track break. Garcia fritters around pleasingly, then tosses in Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring at :58 before briefly returning to the theme. They head into a rather dense jam from there.

Jerry starts playing a repeated figure with a strongly emphasized plucking note at the end, beginning at 2:46. There seems to be a cut at 3:46, although it’s unclear how much is missing. There are a couple other little fades over the next minute or so, although there doesn’t seem to be anything missing at these spots. The jamming retains a distinctly Dark Star flavor throughout, with hints of the theme in various places. By 7:20, they seem ready to head into or out of Dark Star, as they wind down and take stock of things, and the verdict turns out to be “out.” The last minute or so is some interstitial throat-clearing before they strike up Eyes of the World.

Because they begin with the theme, and because they hew so closely to the basic Dark Star structure and vibe, I will (perhaps somewhat arbitrarily) count this as a Dark Star. This is a very nice little jam in the midst of a typically great late-1973 set.

What was said:

Sunday, January 29, 2023

SUPPLEMENTAL: 1973-11-21 (Dark Star Jam)

88612 Denver “Dark Star Jam” 3:26

After El Paso, the band sounds like it’s sliding back into a PiTB jam; instead they kick off Wharf Rat, but after a little bit it sounds more like Dark Star. At about a minute in, Garcia alludes to the verse melody. At about 2:20 it seems to me to shift back toward Wharf Rat, although they keep jamming for a little while longer. Part of an absolutely stupendous set.

What was said:

170. 1973-11-11

83318 Winterland 36:27 (35:22) (1. Dark Star 32:01 [30:56], 2. MLB 4:26)

Main theme at 16:21.
First verse at 17:33.
Mind Left Body jam at 2. :00
Goes into Eyes of the World.

This one begins confidently, coming in with a little spring in its step even if the tempo is still rather slow compared to previous years. At 2:31 Garcia plays the little bass riff that he has been sporadically returning to for a few years now. His line ascends from there, and it sounds like he knows where he’s going. The band is on solid ground here, everything sparkling right from the outset.

Godchaux’s piano drops out for a little while, and at 5:25 he reappears on Rhodes. The vibe gets a little jazzier now, with Weir lounging it up just a little to complement the electric piano. Garcia throws in some pinch harmonics from about 6:30, and he pursues this for a good minute, throwing a little roughage in the mix before sprinting off on some quick runs. His thoughts are long and involved tonight, and provide a through line while Phil pokes around and the others lay down a groove.

The groove really starts bouncing around the 9-minute mark. Garcia is laying it on a little harder now, and everyone is starting to feel it. At some point Keith has bounced back to the piano, giving the music a slightly harder edge as the band swells. There’s finally a bit of a lull around 11:20, with everyone still very active, but softer. At 11:38 Jerry starts playing with a Sputnik-adjacent roll, and the band starts to get a little louder; at 11:59 Lesh’s repetitive groove rumbles into a repeated A for the band to rally around, and as they spiral back out Garcia hints at Bright Star.

They’re really flying here! At 13:37 Garcia drops in the verse melody, but they don’t join and take it to the E minor 1969-style anymore. Instead, Jerry adds further variations, with enough of the familiar melody to remind us this is Dark Star; the band knots together and comes apart over and over, but the groove is cohesive throughout. At 15:20 there’s another lull, and now we expect the theme to come in soon. Jerry tries a little bouncy thing at 15:40, then starts winding toward the theme…sure enough, here it is at 16:21. A minute or so later the verse comes in (“seasons tatter”).

Lesh starts to get pretty heavy after the verse, and Weir is very active as they descend into space. This turns into a feedback thing crossing the 22-minute mark. At 23:25 Garcia’s eerie lines become more melodic, and the band pulls together and kicks into a groove. Jerry continues with the elongated line as the rest of them get a jam going—it’s a bit more abstract than the pre-verse fare, but they’re putting it together here in a way they rarely do after the verse these days. By 27:00 the abstraction starts to prevail, though, with jerky syncopation taking over, but they turn up the intensity rather than dispersing.

By 29:30 Garcia’s wah indicates the possibility of a meltdown in the offing. Lesh counters with some bopping licks; Weir is doing his own thing with some tangential harmonics, while Godchaux (still on piano) runs up and down the fretboard. They briefly spill into a meltdown, then come back with a groove while Jerry plays some really nasty-sounding lines in the sonic region of a clavinet. By 21:45 Weir starts to wander towards MLB, and they kick right into it where the track divides, playing it fast and hard with Jerry still hammering on the wah.

Garcia’s cleans his tone up a bit and pierces the skies, with the MLB chords churning and bubbling at a frenetic pace. They fully commit to the MLB here, playing with drive and focus as they have throughout. At around 2. 3:00 the MLB jam begins to fade, and they let the air out before Jerry starts strumming Eyes of the World.

An absolutely magnificent version is what we have here, not least because they sustain their focus throughout a very well-developed second half in a way we haven’t always seen in 1973. This one is in the pantheon of all-time greats.

What was said:


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